Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Small Things, Big Effects

This post is as much about managing life a much as it i abouts managing pre-and-between-performance stress. Actually, stress is stress, no matter how you slice it. Today with my students I gave the first half of my lecture on stress and anxiety and it got the wheels turning for this installment. While Chapter 7 focused mostly on major stressors, we'll look at some of the more overlooked ones.

The bottom line is this: stress is a nonspecific reaction to demands placed on the physical and emotional systems.Sometimes it's mostly positive (such as in the case of playing in a championship game, committing to a scholarship), sometimes there's nothing good about it at all (fear of an upcoming event because of possibility of failure). The previous examples are typically what people think of when the dreaded 's-word' comes up. Something typically big, often pressing, and overwhelming. Often, it is the big stuff that puts us over the edge, or "overflows the glass" so to speak. But what if there wasn't the stuff in the periphery? Would it be easier to deal with?

I'm always challenging athletes I work with professionally to monitor their daily stress loads in addition to the demands of training and competing. What are the things that make us feel just-off? A handful of examples that we too-often overlook: our busy schedules, saying 'yes' to things we should say 'no' to, tasks at home, relationships, bills and deadlines, and this one hits close to home for yours truly: electronics. This can be a covert drain on your energy and attention. Yes, I'll admit to a constant attachment to my iPhone and email and have recently realized its detrimental effects not just on my daily routine and mood; but you know it's getting to a new level when you are out on a run or on the bike and you hear the familiar "whoosh" email alert and are tempted to check it-while going 20 mph! Focused on my training ride? Apparently not! There's only so much I and you all can fit in your 'glass' without overflow.

In taking a step back and serving as my own case study, I have decided to make little changes dealing with life's little stressors that contribute to our overall load (or properly termed 'allostatic load') For the time being, I have simply started leaving the phone hidden in the car while working out and silencing at a decent hour on weeknights. Amazingly, the benefits were immediate. I had one of my best swims to date, just because I wasn't thinking of what lies in by gym locker when I finish. Think of it as removing an unwanted ice cube from a full glass. Suddenly there's more space.

I also emphasize these small changes because they are sustainable. Taking back a little more time to refresh and focus completely on what your doing is actually powerful. The other week I read a Facebook post about somebody putting 'quiet time' in their calendars. Great idea! In this fast paced, competitive environment we athletes exist in, it helps to be mindful of the things that tend to set you off on a negative spin, and start lowering your stress load by taking some things that may displace your proverbial "glass".

There are endless possibilities to make life a little easier and more focused. Try and cut out some small things that lead to unnecessary stress and energy cost- chances the effect will be proportionately greater than imagined.


  1. I love this post. With all of life swirling around me, it is sometimes hard to maintain momentum and focus in my training time. And, I have found that big overall stress reducers are times when momentum, concentration, and focus are directed on one thing, completely apart from the other life I am responsible to. I take my cell for emergencies now on my bike rides, but I don't answer it until I am basking in post-focus.

  2. Yes, this is a great post. I think most of us could benefit from looking at our email and phones a little less!